Out of the Laundry Bag onto the Fort

Did you build a fort when you were a kid?

Years before my father built my playhouse, even a few years before he built the bomb shelter in our basement, I was constructing my own forts out of sheets.  They sprouted in our living room, my bedroom, and in the neighbor’s basement.

I would drag chairs and small tables close enough to heavy furniture that sheets could be draped from one object to another to create walls and a ceiling.

In the best interests of my book I actually built myself a fort yesterday.  I covered the kitchen table and chairs with sheets and crept inside with a pillow and diet Coke.  What I learned is that two of my cats were curious and came inside with me, but decided to leave right away, and two of them skedaddled in terror.  And I learned that my knees aren’t doing so hot.

In the days when I didn’t have those issues, my mother’s laundry provided the ability to make forts.  Her hinged type clothespins held the sheets to the furniture.


Not for fort-building!

In my mother’s canvas clothespin bag, the majority of the pins were the standard version, and I had to really hunt to find enough of the hinged sort.

In those days my mother had a clothesline in our backyard, and in the summer she hung our sheets and certain articles of clothing with these pins.  A few years later, she switched to a wheel-shaped pole unit from a simple clothesline.  This was the new style, and my mother was upgrading for the sixties.  A few years later, we moved to our final house, and my mother said she wouldn’t put up a clothesline because it was tacky.

As I worked with the sheets, they billowed up with a whoosh and, if it was summer, the outdoor scent blew off the fabric.  In the winter they smelled musty from the tightly packed narrow linen closet.  When I got my sheets all clipped to the furniture, I had a tent which sometimes was just one “room,” or if I was lucky enough to get hold of more sheets and had a friend to help me, might be a multi-roomed tent.

Blanket fort (Wikipedia)

Children have very little privacy.  Having my own fort gave me the illusion of privacy, even if it was only to lie in there and sigh at the light filtering in through the thin percale or snicker at the muffled sound of my mother yakking on the telephone in the next room.  A special treat was if my mother let me eat my grilled cheese sandwich and carrot sticks inside the tent.

It might be that children’s forts make children feel safe because they provide a feeling of control.  The child cannot be seen by others, but she can peek out at will–even spy.

When I was older, at least ten, we built a fort in the empty field behind our house.  The field had natural hillocks and valleys, and my friends and I chose the deepest indentation and dug it out deeper.  This took hours of callous-building work with Dad’s army shovel.  Then we collected scraps of old wood from the city dump on the other side of the field and fashioned a crude cover for the opening.  We left a narrow space to peek one head above the surface, as if we had a human periscope.

Apparently children are still making forts out of their environment.  The other day a friend ran into a charming fort on her walk through the woods.

Photo by Kim Heinke

Photo by Kim Heinke


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Research and prep for writing

14 responses to “Out of the Laundry Bag onto the Fort

  1. My youngest (nearly 6) is building a lot of blanket tents … in the living room, and sometimes in het own room, but there is more space and more fun and more people in the living room.
    The oldest wanted a tree house when she was 9, but I could never help her to do that. We made a plan, and there it stopped, now several years later, she still asks about it now and then.
    When I was young we (friends – 6 to 11 years old) build a lot of forts in the woods. Very much like the one in the above picture. With these friends we once invaded an abandoned tree house from another ‘club’ in the forest, and kept it occupied for half a year, until storms and winter destroyed it.

    • lucewriter

      Bert, how fun to have a little one building blanket tents right now. It’s more fun for everybody in the living room ;). Your story of invading an abandoned tree house is going to stay with me. We were so serious when we played, weren’t we? hahaha

  2. We always made forts with the dining room table and chairs! We are related. We never did an outside fort, we had a playhouse…..we are related…….Jill

    • lucewriter

      I had to build forts before I had that playhouse. In fact, I wonder if building that one in the ground behind our house was why my father built the playhouse! That’s the tip of a memory that is starting to come back for me! ANd your comment led to it :). We are definitely related.

  3. I enjoyed your writing on tents and forts. I always found these appealing in my youth. Sometimes it was good enough to hide under my mother’s or father’s bed (twin beds from the 50s) with a dust ruffle around. It was safe, as you say, and a great place for dreaming. There must be some genetic proclivity for little humans to want to hide–and that’s how they survived in the uncertain, distant past. Your recent tent building makes me want to try it too. On the other hand, are our grownup houses merely large-scale forts for big humans, where we can hide and dream?

    • lucewriter

      I think that was part of the reason that replicating the experience didn’t work that well for me. My house is my fort. Good thoughts here about the proclivity for hiding!!!

  4. Wow, forts were part of my childhood in every season.. In summer we’d build one in a tree to catch a breeze, in fall, behind some shrubbery, winter, made some out of snow and in spring the old blanket tent fort indoors.. This sure takes me back to those good times..

    • lucewriter

      I love the idea of different forts for different seasons. I had forgotten how true that is. You just reminded me of making snow forts!!!!! Wow, that was so much fun and I didn’t even remember that when I was writing this. Thank you :). Already thinking of how to capture in words that feeling of being inside the snow fort and how protected from the elements it seemed and yet still so COLD.

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